Friday, January 14, 2011

The Fine Line of Parenting

As parents who want to be good parents, better than our parents, whether that's being more attentive or less controlling, depending on how our parents were, involves walking on a very fine line.  I read in an article yesterday about how important it is to let your child manage college applications and all those details on their own with no real help at all. 

The article suggested you let them do it alone, but also insisted you should ask really specific questions during college tours that I wouldn't dare ask.  The article said to ask the class size of specific intro classes.  Duh, they are going to be large even at smaller colleges; the larger the college, the bigger the intro classes.  Such is the way of the world.  I think the job of the parent is to ask your child how comfortable they think they would be and how well they would do in an intro class with 600 people versus 100 and let them know that's something they should think about.  As a parent, I am certain I will not lose sleep at night wondering about how many people are in my daughter's college biology class.  My concern is that she chooses a college that fits her and make sure she is thinking early on about what environment she will excel in the most and that she will enjoy along the way.

In the comments following the article, many parents referred to "helicopter parents" with extreme disdain.  Nothing could be worse than an over-caring parent, right?  I say worry about yourself and your own kids - do we really need to judge each other like that?  Every child is different and has distinctively different needs.  Each of my children are profoundly different and need a different sort of encouragement to do their best.  When it comes down to it, they know I love them because I pay attention to them and expect them to do their best and learn from their own mistakes. 

Yes, complete abandonment of technically adult children, forcing them out of the nest to fend with no support will definitely make them independent.  I know I was - I had no choice.  But it will not make them confident and will likely fill them with anxiety.  Without a support system, you can't be truly confident.  Without confidence, you can't possibly do your best.  And you certainly can't do your best if you are filled with anxiety.

Without help filling out those forms and without being given a clue from others who have succeeded in college, adult children are at risk of dropping out and/or failing or turning to bad behavior.  I know that's ultimately their responsibility if they achieve their vision of success or not (their vision not ours) or if they have to work harder because of some early missteps.  But giving them support and encouragement and some good advice is our job as parents, particularly if we have been through those hard times ourselves. 

As parents, we need to make our own decisions about the kind of parents we want to be.  So back off of the criticism directed toward other parents - it's none of your business.

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